Are Smartphones Disconnecting Your Family?

More than ever, families are thinking about what’s really important to them. With everything that is happening in the world these days and our inability to turn it off, we can’t help but find ourselves wondering about what’s really important? How can we keep our children safe? How can we stay connected?

It seems logical that we are leaning on today’s technology to help us feel connected to one another, near and far, but there are many who argue that it is this same technology that is actually creating a void in our lives and personal relationships. Families have any number of communication devices and can be reached at any time of the day from anywhere…shouldn’t that technology and extreme connectedness be helping families feeling more connected?

One would think that with all of the information we have at our fingertips today, it should be easier than ever to be a parent, raise a child, and nurture a family. But it might actually be getting harder because of how “plugged in” everyone in the family is.

Think about the last time you sat down for a family meal: who was there? Who had a phone in their hand? Did anyone put down their phone without having to be asked to do so? Do you have a rule about phones at the dinner table?

There is a series of pictures circulating the internet that depicts a young couple sitting on their sofa, probably watching a DVD and settling in for a relaxing evening. Except, something is strange about this photo: there is a giant smartphone sitting on the couch between them. When you look closer, you can see that the couple each has a smartphone in their hands, while the movie plays in the background. They aren’t sitting close together. They aren’t watching the film. They aren’t talking to each other. What is so important they feel the urge to scan through their phones while they are supposed to be enjoying each others company?

There are two ways to look at this situation:

One way is to see it and accept it as the norm. Everyone does it…that used to be an exaggeration, but smartphone users are getting younger and older, every day. Perhaps this couple doesn’t realize the neglect they are causing to their relationship or doesn’t see it as neglect. Perhaps, this is how they have always spent their Friday nights because they are of the generation that just “grew up on smartphones.”

The other way to look at the situation is to question what is happening: why aren’t they watching the film? Why aren’t they talking to each other? Who are they talking to, or more likely, who are they texting? Why are they even bothering to spend time together if they are just going to ignore each other and agree to this kind of complacency?

Unfortunately, the first interpretation of the situation is becoming the most widely accepted: everyone does it.

What is this doing to our families?

Just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t make it right or even acceptable. I heard of a teacher who is so fed up with students answering phone calls in her class that every time a cell phone rings in her class, she records the lesson she was teaching at the time and assigns a project to the student afterwards. She says it is because the student wasn’t paying attention enough during the lesson to have gotten everything he or she possibly could have, and so she assigns extra work: usually in the form of a poster collage or something that has to be presented in the class. She has done this for a long time and it curbs the enthusiasm of the cell phone users once they get caught and are required to take on extra work.

But what is wrong with this teacher’s approach? Is she punishing communication methods? I can’t help but wonder….who is making a phone call to that student in the middle of the day? Isn’t that person at work or at school?

So what happens when families start enforcing rules about smartphone usage? What happens to the trust and dynamic of the family? If everyone is in agreement about how much time should be dedicated to smartphone usage at home, or at school, then it is probably not a problem for those families. But what about when everyone is not in agreement: you guessed it! New age rebellion! It’s really difficult for a parent to take away their children’s cell phone because they probably gave it to them in the first place to “make sure they are always safe and can reach mom or dad when they need to.” Of course, that is not what they turned out to be used for, but that nagging feeling in the back of a parent’s brain that is saying, “if you take it, what if they get in trouble?”

A Tough Call

The added stress of worry is unnecessary for families as well. So instead of sitting down to enjoy a dinner together, children will text their friends and parents will answer emails and everyone will quietly accept that this is the new world order of family communication. Instead of having to speak in full sentences with each other, children text their parents half-assed communication to let them know they’ll be late for said dinner, or they are going to a friend’s house.

The lack of communication hangs in the balance and it just keeps piling up until one day, something important needs to be discussed and no one has the ability or capability to engage in a meaningful conversation anymore. So they just send mom a text saying they are going to Julie’s house for supper.

There’s no question that the insurgence of technology is bringing much benefit to our lives, but there is no doubt that it is also complicating them on many levels. A few more years of this and we’ll find common ground with each other and a set of rules will emerge about smartphone etiquette…someday.

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